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Rogers Family Papers

Call Number

MS 523


1614-1950 (bulk 1831-1950), inclusive



7.1 Linear feet (7 boxes)

Language of Materials

The documents in the collection are in English.


The Rogers Family Papers depict the Civil War era sculptor John Rogers, Jr., his immediate family, and a lineage of ancestors. Materials of John Rogers, Jr. include personal correspondence, writings and drawings, travel papers, patents, ledger books, business contracts and correspondence, financial papers, journal clippings, and exhibition ephemera. The Rogers family papers include personal and business correspondence, ledger books, diaries, religious writings, and genealogical materials.

Biographical Note

Born on October 30, 1829 in Salem, Massachusetts to Sara Ellen Derby and John Rogers, John Rogers, Jr. grew up in Cincinnati and rural Northampton, MA before the Rogers family moved to Roxbury, where he attended grammar school. In 1844 he entered the Boston English High School where he developed an interest and talent in drawing. However, as the descendent of a long lineage of Puritan ministers and merchants, pressure from his father and uncle led him to start a more practical career. After graduation in 1846, John Rogers, Jr. began work as a dry goods clerk in Boston and in 1848 took a position as a surveyor's assistant with the Boston Water Works, on the recommendation of his uncle Henry Bromfield Rogers, a Water Commissioner.

In December of 1848 John Rogers, Jr. suffered from a terrible cold and acute inflammation of the eyes that forced him to leave his job and seek treatment. He would make trips to Boston for entertainment, and there met a friend who first introduced him to clay modeling. While his eye-sight was so drastically impaired, Rogers turned to modeling for enjoyment. With little improvement in his eyes by July of 1849, his Grandmother Derby and uncle Henry Rogers sent him on a trip to Spain, where he spent more time sketching sights than recovering.

By July 1850 John Rogers, Jr. was well enough again to take a new position in a machine shop for the Amoskeag Corporation in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he worked until the fall of 1852. Then he moved to New York City to work at the Novelty Iron Works for a year before returning to his position in Manchester. By the winter of 1855-56, Rogers had become a Master Mechanic at the Amoskeag Machine Shop, and in April 1856 decided to move to Hannibal, Missouri to take a position as the Master Mechanic of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Rail Road. However, this job ended abruptly only a year and a half later during the Panic of 1857.

Throughout his years in the machinist trade, Rogers had continued to sculpt clay models and had created a number of small works. The sudden interruption of his career in 1857 quickly led to his decision to improve his skill by moving to Paris in September 1858 to study sculpture. However, discouraged by the minimal earnings of sculpture, in April 1859 Rogers returned home to the United States where a few months later in September he found a position at the surveyor's office of Chicago. He unexpectedly experienced his first success as a sculptor in a Charity Bazaar. His celebrated first piece, "Checkers at the Farm," was soon followed by "The Slave Auction," which took him to New York to finally start a career in sculpture.

In 1863 Rogers officially determined his business model of "large sales and small profits." During the years of the Civil War, Rogers, a Unionist, produced statues on contemporary topics and attained household renown. As Rogers' career took off, his studio in New York soon became a public showroom. His fame spread nationally from frequent reviews in newspapers, magazine, and trade journals. Some of his most notable pieces and subjects were statues of Gen. Reynolds, Henry Ward Beecher, Abraham Lincoln, Edwin M. Stanton, and Gen. Grant.

John Rogers, Jr. married Harriet Moore Francis in 1865, and together they had seven children, six of whom survived to adulthood: John, Katherine Rebecca, Charles Francis, Derby, Alexander Parker, and David Francis. Throughout his career Rogers was able to make a comfortable living. However after his retirement in 1894 and over thirty years of work, interest in his miniature group sculptures lessened. He moved permanently to his summer home in New Canaan, where he died in 1904.

The Rogers family's genealogy dates as far back as to the 16th century. Originally located in England, men of the Rogers family began a tradition of careers in the ministry. In 1636 Reverend Nathaniel Rogers moved the family to America, where the family took root in the surrounding areas of Boston and carried on the occupational tradition of Puritan ministers and New England merchants, providing their descendents with a respected family name. Though John Rogers, Sr. was also a merchant, he did not experience the same success and wealth that his predecessors had. However, in 1827, at the age of 27 Rogers married a 22 year-old Sarah Ellen Derby, daughter of the Salem banker John Derby. Together they had 7 children and moved several times in their early life, finally settling down in Roxbury, Massachusetts. John Rogers, Sr. and Sarah Ellen Derby remained close to Rogers, Sr.'s brother Henry Bromfield Rogers, a member of the Municipal Council and a Water Commissioner of Boston. H. B. Rogers played a significant role in the early life and career of John Rogers, Jr. providing connections and financial support when needed. The Rogers family was close and corresponded frequently amongst siblings and parents.

Source: Wallace, David H. John Rogers: The People's Sculptor. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1967.


The records are organized into the following 3 series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: John Rogers, Jr.
  2. Series II: Rogers Family
  3. Series III: Photocopies of Rogers Family Documents

Scope and Content Note

The Rogers Family Papers documents the family life and career of John Rogers, Jr. (1829-1904), the famous sculptor and former machinist, as well as Rogers family members dating back to the early 17th century. Notable ancestors included are Reverend John Rogers (1572-1636) of Dedham, Essex, descendant of the Martyr John Rogers and Reverend John Rogers (1630-1684), 5th President of Harvard University (1682-1684). Divided into two series, John Rogers, Jr. and the Rogers Family, the former consists of both personal and business letters, writings, drawings, and financial documents accumulated by John Rogers, Jr. through out his life. The latter series contains personal correspondence created or received by the immediate family members John Rogers, Jr. such as his sisters, father, or children. The second series also holds sermons, correspondence, and journals of Rogers family ancestors passed down from one generation to the next, and genealogical accounts, obituaries and timelines put together by later generations.

The letters of John Rogers, Jr. date back to his youth in Roxbury, Massachusetts and continue through his occupation as a machinist in New Hampshire, New York, and Missouri to his later career as a sculptor in New York City and New Canaan, Connecticut. As a sculptor of renown in the late 19th century, the correspondence of John Rogers, Jr. includes letters to and from some prominent figures, Henry Ward Beecher, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Grover Cleveland. Rogers' sculptures often reflected themes of the Civil War which included and enthused some of these men, prompting notes of thanks and recognition. His lengthier communication with Henry Ward Beecher followed Rogers' 1860 exhibition of the first of a series of Civil War series called "The Slave Auction." The papers of John Rogers, Jr. additionally include personal writings and drawings that he created primarily in young adulthood, such as sketches from his trip to Spain in 1849 as well as animated short stories. John Rogers, Jr. also preserved important letters, contracts, and patents from his career as a sculptor. These records have been arranged in the last subseries and largely include correspondence relating to exhibitions of Rogers Groups and donations of statues by Rogers to museums and galleries.

The Rogers Family Papers consist of the correspondence of immediate family members of John Rogers, Jr., including his parents John Rogers, Sr. and Sarah Ellen Derby, siblings, most prominently Ellen Rogers, wife Harriet M. F. Rogers, and children, primarily Derby and Katherine R. Rogers. The family correspondence is largely comprised of communication between family members, but also in the case of Derby and Katherine R. Rogers, business correspondence relating to the Rogers Groups after their father's death. Rogers Family Papers also consist of the letters, diaries and sermons of ancestors, many of whom were Protestant religious leaders. The final subseries of the collection contains genealogical records collected by the younger generation of the Rogers family. Included are notes and letters, timelines, a scrapbook, and an extensive hand-written timeline dating back to the 15th century.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit

Portions of the collection that have been microfilmed will be brought to the researcher in that format and can be made available by Interlibrary loan.

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Rogers Family Papers, MS 523, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit


Donation of Katherine R. Rogers, 1955.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Further materials about John Rogers, Jr. are located at the New-York Historical Society within the John Rogers Photograph Collection. Within the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, additional images of John Rogers and Rogers family members are available in the Cased Photograph File (PR 012), certificates given to Rogers at various exhibitions are in the Certificate File (PR 014), a 1939 calendar showing Rogers sculpture groups is located in the Calendar File (PR 146) and an album containing photographs of Rogers and his sculpture groups is availablein the Album File (PR 002-12). Bronze masters and plaster Rogers Groups are available for study in the Henry Luce III Center of The New-York Historical Society.

Collection processed by

Kaitlyn Medley & Megan Dolan

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:46:27 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024